I always consider adventure trips to be a two-pronged affair: not only health benefits in every shape and form, but character-building too. Unconsciously, I tend to seek out experiences where I do the things I fear the most. One of my main worries is heights.
My battle with heights is a series of, well, highs and lows. Sometimes I can scramble up 1,000 m (3,000 ft) cliffs without any anxiety at all; at other times, I can attempt to climb a 6 m (20 ft) tree and every cell in my body goes into utter shock. It's hard to put into words the battle that develops in my head, as I defend against my instinctive fear (“You're going to fall and die”) with my rational voice (“You're fine, you have two safety ropes on your harness!”).
In this context, Bogdan and I decided to try Go Ape's Tree Adventure. Although it sounds like kids play, believe me: it is not! First, a set of instructions were presented to us by one of their trained staff. We then took part in a practice session at ground level, using carabiners as much as possible to get used to the rules of staying alive in a tree. The system is quite easy to use, and with their friendly assistance, we were ready to crack on.
At the time we went to Go Ape in Trent Park, there were five levels to complete in order to finish the climbing adventure. The first one was, obviously, just a few feet above the ground, just to ensure we had mastered the right techniques before ascending further. That was a piece of cake! Moving up to level two was a different story. This is where the challenge began. Our start wasn't terribly encouraging, as we spotted some fellow “apes” climbing down from the first platform, shaking madly with fear. “OK, we need to do this!” I said to Bogdan. And we went up the ladder with very mixed feelings. Somehow, ground level has never looked as attractive and the temptation was to go back…but a voice inside us kept saying “Come on! You can do it! Don't let the fear win!”. So off we went.
Completing level 2 made us cocky. We were veterans. Level 3 was a different matter entirely. Once up there, we were struck by the sheer height of the platform, with more challenging crossings between the trees. The constant battle raging between instinct and reason was the only thing going on in my head. But by repeating to myself, over and over, that the only way to beat the fear was to conquer it, I kept going and this got me through the 3rd level. I wasn’t at all sure what was going on in Bogdan's head, but he was considerably more chatty than usual, so I’m assuming he was attempting to mask his terrible dread of heights with forced conversation!
We reached level 4, from where we could already see the final zip line on level 5. That was high. And I mean really high. My brain froze and I was convinced my body would not move any further unless I did something dramatic. Many things go through your mind when you're in extreme situations. What's funny is that we're all so different, and our reactions are so various. I closed my eyes and said to myself: “You got this far, you're not going back, mate!” And I started to walk on the 30ft-high suspended steps. Again, we were securely tethered with ropes and harnesses all the time, so it was literally impossible to fall. It's really, really hard to convince your brain of that, though. Tarzan's swing was the point at which I really overcame my fear. Embracing it, I let myself drop, falling through air to the mesh at the end of the circuit. There are no words for the feeling, but I can assure you, it was truly rewarding! The final steps towards level 5 and the zip line at the end were already for rookies. “Ok, what's next?” I asked Bogdan. “The Matterhorn? Mont Blanc?” Ok, maybe neither of them for now…
How would I describe the whole experience? Amazing! The degree of satisfaction you get from completing each challenge cannot be put into words. Is this for people who are scared of heights? I’d say that’s exactly the kind of people who should try it. It is character building; it’s a cure for your phobia. You can’t conquer those fears in any way other than confronting them and mastering your inner thoughts and anxiety. I really feel this experience is one that can be underestimated, but maybe that is just because, once again, I conquered my fear.
Thanks to Louise McTigue for proofreading this article.